Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Moscow, Tokyo turn up the heat on Kuril Islands dispute
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has arrived in Moscow for negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This is the two leaders’ 25th meeting, indicating their desire to improve bilateral relations. However, disagreements between both leaders are obvious. While Moscow says it is essential to recognize the outcome of World War II, Tokyo insists that signing a peace treaty should be preceded by a solution to the territorial dispute, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes, TASS reported.
According to Kyodo News, Abe is prepared to sign a peace accord with Russia in exchange for Shikotan and Habomai islands.
Currently, there are no specific versions of a potential peace treaty between Russia and Japan, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier. According to the Kremlin, no one has proposed anything officially, and both countries are determined to defend their national interests.
By all appearances, the meeting in Moscow will not proceed as originally planned, Valery Kistanov, Director of the Center for Japanese Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies, told the paper. "When Putin and Abe met at Vladivostok's (Eastern) Economic Forum and, later on, in Singapore, the situation was a bit different. I got the impression that relations had cooled off somewhat due to the fault of the Japanese, intentionally or unintentionally. There were some media leaks, which sparked Russia’s ire. As an example, I can cite Shinzo Abe’s statement after visiting his father’s grave that he would do his utmost to bring a solution to the territorial problem closer," he explained.
All that creates the impression that there is allegedly an agreement on the islands’ transfer, that the problem has actually been solved, the expert went on to say. "Apparently, this explains Russia’s harsh response. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov demanded at a news conference that Tokyo recognize the results of World War II. I believe Japan will never agree to do that. That would mean recognizing Russia’s sovereignty over the islands. Nevertheless, Japan probably hoped that Abe and Putin would reach an agreement in Moscow. Then Putin would come to Japan on an official visit that will be timed for the G20 summit in Osaka, where a more tangible document to solve both problems could be signed. In fact, this Japanese plan is unlikely to be implemented," Kistanov stressed.
Izvestia: Talks on Russian gas transit through Ukraine to continue
Brussels has hosted the second round of negotiations between Russia, Ukraine and the European Commission. The talks focused on the extension of Russia's gas transit through Ukraine after 2019, when contracts between Russian gas giant Gazprom and Ukraine’s Naftogaz expire, Izvestia writes.
As expected, no legally binding documents were signed, but the parties outlined reference points concerning future gas transit.
The Russian Energy Ministry informed Izvestia on the eve of the meeting that Moscow was ready to ink a deal on transit through Ukraine under appropriate conditions. "We are ready to sign the contract, if the agreements are economically advantageous and do not exceed the tariffs ten-fold," Energy Ministry Spokeswoman Olga Golant said.
According to Alexander Pasechnik, Head of the Analytical Department at the National Energy Security Foundation, the litigation between Gazprom and Naftogaz could become a bargaining chip in the whole gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine. "The conditions, under which Gazprom and Naftogaz can reach a compromise, boil down to reducing all mutual claims to zero in return for a new contract, whose terms will be negotiated separately. Kiev’s transit demands are far greater than Gazprom can offer, taking in account TurkStream and Nord Stream 2," the expert emphasized.
Ukraine will hold its presidential election on March 31. According to Ukrainian lawmaker from the Opposition Bloc, Yevgeny Balitsky, the people who will come to power in Ukraine should preserve Russian gas transit. The problem is that today Kiev is unable to ensure uninterrupted supplies, mainly because of the unstable political situation in the country, so the task of the new government will be to become a reliable partner for Russia and the European Union.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Nord Stream 2 will be implemented, expert assures
The European Union needs additional gas for the future, so the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is bound to be built, German political scientist Alexander Rahr told Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
The expert noted that though united, "Europe has no sufficient natural gas resources. Russia and Germany have had excellent relations based on trust for more than 50 years. Despite the Cold War, Soviet and then Russian gas was brought to Germany, and then Germany sold it to other European countries. German companies launched cooperation with Russia a long time ago, and these historic ties are very difficult to sever. Therefore, Germany wants more gas, which Europe needs and will require, to flow through Russian pipelines as has been the case for 50 years," he emphasized.
The political analyst described the ongoing attempts to hinder the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 project as part of a scheme to elbow Russian businesses out of Europe. "I believe this is the Americans’ idea, which is supported by some former Warsaw Pact members. I think Germany has allies, such as Austria, Italy and to some degree, France, which will always be interested in maintaining gas cooperation with Russia," he pointed out.
When asked to comment on the agreements between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Donald Trump on LNG supplies to Germany, Rahr stressed, "Neither Merkel nor Trump sell that gas. It is impossible to make gas producers in the US supply liquefied gas to Europe at a loss for political reasons. No one in Europe will pay huge amounts of money for American liquefied gas as long as there is Russian and Norwegian gas. That’s why the Americans want to prevent Russian gas from being supplied to Europe to bring their gas there. However, American gas is not commercially advantageous at present. Germany will purchase gas in the US too someday to lull the Americans, but only on commercial terms rather than under Washington’s pressure."
Izvestia: Family frets over health of incarcerated Russian activist
The family of Russian citizen Maria Butina, jailed in the US, is worried about her health because of her prison conditions, her father Valery told Izvestia.
"We know nothing about the conditions Maria is kept in. For example, they might put her in solitary confinement, and we may know nothing about it," Valery Butin said.
"The last time we spoke with Maria, the temperature in the cell was 15 degrees Celsius. We are worried that she may suffer from chronic arthritis because of the cold. After all, communication with relatives is what helps a person in such a difficult situation in life," he added.
Valery Butin also told the paper that his daughter had been unable to get in touch with her family by phone for a week.
However, later on, he told the Rossiya 24 TV channel that Maria had been able to talk with her relatives over the phone after a week of silence.
"Today, she got in touch with her mother over the phone. Maybe, this is some technical failure. I cannot say why there is no connection. She’s been trying to call us for a week, but she couldn’t get through to our family. She was able to get in touch with us today, but there are no guarantees that there will be a stable connection," he noted.
Maria Butina, 30, was arrested in Washington, DC, on July 15, 2018. The US Department of Justice said that she was suspected of acting "as an agent of Russia inside the United States by developing relationships with US persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation."
On December 13, 2018, Butina pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the US law governing foreign agents operating in the country. The next court hearing is scheduled to be held on February 12.
Kommersant: Investors rushing to gold as safe haven
Uncertainty regarding the global economy’s prospects for 2019 along with expectations of a slowdown in the growth of the Federal Reserve rate have forced companies to increase investment in gold, Kommersant writes.
The assets of exchange-traded index funds investing in gold have updated the five-year-maximum. According to Bloomberg, based on the results of Friday’s trading, they grew by almost 15 tonnes to reach 2.253 tonnes. At the same time, gold prices have risen 5% to reach $1,280 per ounce and are close to the semi-annual maximum.
According to Evgeny Linchik, Managing Director of Sberbank Asset Management, gold is traditionally viewed by investors as a safe haven where one can ride out the volatility on global stock markets.
"At the beginning of January, the panic index calculated by Citibank reached a critical point. Small wonder that some funds have increased their investment in gold," the paper quotes FP Wealth Solution Partner Alexei Debelov as saying.
In the coming days, investors will be closely following the ongoing shutdown in the US. Fitch has already warned about risks to the creditworthiness of the US pointing out that, if it drags on, the country runs the risk of losing its top AAA rating. "This is not the first shutdown in the US, which, as rule, is not particularly important for the markets. However, political instability may trigger concern and result in an increase in demand for protective assets," says Alfa Capital analyst Daria Zhelannova.
According to Senior BCS Analyst Sergei Suverev, the future gold price dynamics will be determined by inflation rates in leading countries and geopolitical factors.